Welcome to my 5th Annual Holiday Gear Guide. If you’ve been a faithful reader of this gear guide for the past four years, you’ve probably noticed a subtle change in the title. That’s right, this is the first year that it’s not my “Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide.” When I put the first one of these together five years ago, I honestly didn’t give the name much thought because it was just supposed to be a post on my blog. But it got so popular, the following year we published both an online and printed version. Eventually, it became the cover story, and well—gonzo just sounds kinda lame. In fact, I really have no idea what gonzo actually means, so while nobody was really looking, I just kind of deleted it, and so far, nobody at NAPP HQ has raised a big stink.
Last year I came up with a self-imposed set of rules for products that would make it into the guide: (1) They have to be products that I use myself, and that I absolutely love, and now can’t live without. (2) If a product makes the guide, it has to be one I would recommend to a close friend without hesitation. And (3) although this is mostly camera gear (which isn’t a cheap hobby), I wanted to include a few items that were under $100, and some under $50 if I could find them (which is harder than it sounds).
To make things easy, we put up direct links to all the products so you don’t have to wonder if you’re getting the exact right one. The links either go directly to the manufacturer (if they only sell direct), or to our friends at B&H Photo and Adorama (none of which send me a kickback or commission if you buy something, and I wouldn’t take it if they did).
Remember, the only thing better than actually buying cool gear for someone you love is having someone you love buy you cool gear (kidding—kind of). So, without further ado (that’s right—everything up to this point was “ado”), here’s this year’s collection of really cool, handpicked gift ideas (by the way, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy gifts for yourself if it has lots of buttons or any kind of LCD screen.)
We use this as a hair fan in the studio because it’s so small, lightweight, and best of all, you can attach it to most any light stand and aim it right where you want it. It was designed for drummers, but works great in the studio.
IKEA Asker Suspension Rail and Clips for hanging prints
Ed Loziuk, one of the readers of my daily blog (scottkelby.com), turned me on to this great, very inexpensive way to display your images. You basically hang your unframed prints on a tiny lightweight track using clips that are specially made for it so you can quickly change out prints any time. Looks great, works great, costs just a little.
23.5″ rail: $7.99
47.25″ rail: $9.99
Clips (3): $4.99
Nik Color Efex Pro 3 Complete Edition
If I had to use just one single plug-in from here on out, this would be the one. I use it for everything from landscapes (try the Brilliance/Warmth effect) to portraits (try Tonal Contrast) and everything in between. The Complete Edition is compatible with both Photoshop and Lightroom.
Complete Edition: $299.95
AluminArte: High Definition Photo Prints on Aluminum from Image Wizards
I got my first images printed on metal this past year, and everybody pretty much said the same thing: “It looks like the print world’s version of high-def TV.” I don’t know how they get that depth, that look, but it truly looks amazing. Give the photographer on your holiday list a print on metal from Image Wizards and she’ll be hooked!
Prices start around $182 for a 12×20″ print
Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight
If you know a Nikon shooter that has always wanted to make the jump to off-camera flash, now’s the time thanks to this new lower-priced, feature-packed flash. You can buy two of these brand-new flashes for just a little more than one Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight, and it will open up a new world for the photographer who wants to start using off-camera flash.
Wacom accessories: Intuos4 Classic Pen (thinner than regular pen) or Case (a lightweight sleeve)
If the Photoshop user on your holiday list has a Wacom tablet (and my guess is he does), Wacom has a bunch of nice accessories, such as a thinner wireless pen (compared to the Intuos4 Grip Pen) or lightweight travel sleeves for their small, medium, and large Intuos4 tablets.
Classic Pen: $69.95
Small Case: $24.95
Medium Case: $29.95
Large Case: $34.95
A Nikon or Canon tele-extender
Long lenses are expensive, but by buying a 1.4 tele-extender, it makes current lenses 40% longer, without costing 40% more (they’re relatively inexpensive). Worth every penny.
Canon Extender EF 1.4X III: Approx. $500
Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E II: $519.95
iPad Camera Connection Kit and iPad as backup device
If the photographer on your list has an Apple iPad, get him the iPad Camera Connection Kit, which lets him use his iPad as an in-field backup and photo viewing device. It’s very small, lightweight, and does a good job. The kit includes two connectors: one for USB to connect the camera directly to the iPad and one for an SD card. If he doesn’t have an iPad, and you really, really, like this person (or you want him to really, really like you), spring for an iPad. Now he’ll have his portfolio with him everywhere he goes (and a whole lot more).
Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit: $29
Connection Kit – B&H
iPad – B&H
Canvas photographic prints from Artistic Photo Canvas
Want to really impress a friend this holiday season? Send her a canvas print. Want to blow her away? Send her one of your panoramic images on canvas. Haven’t shot a pano? Just crop one of your regular landscape images like a pano. What I love about APC is that they’ll do all the work to prepare your image for printing on canvas, and the results are just amazing. Try them once, and you’ll be hooked. (Image: Seattle Summer Night by Jacob Lucas)
Gallery wrapped canvas panos start at $89
Captured: Lessons from Behind the Lens of a Legendary Wildlife Photographer by Moose Peterson
I want you to know up front that my company actually produced Moose’s book, but there’s a reason why I asked Moose to write this book—it was because I knew there wasn’t a single book on wildlife photography that was the “go-to” book to learn the craft, and I knew in my heart Moose was the guy to write it. What I didn’t realize was that he would take my expectations and literally blow them away. He wrote a truly groundbreaking book that will help the wildlife photographer on your gift list make better images, and that’s really what it’s all about. Fascinating insights. Amazing images. Intriguing stories. And packed with important tips and techniques that will change the way you capture wildlife. (Way to go, Moose!)
Think Tank Photo Airport Check In laptop bag (the best I’ve ever used)
I have gone through more laptop bags than I can count in my search for the perfect bag, and earlier this year, I finally found it—it’s Think Tank Photo’s Airport Check In. It’s really thoughtfully designed and holds lots of big and small gear (including up to a 17″ laptop). It’s not cheap, but who wants a cheap Christmas present? Worth every penny.
Westcott 12×36″ Stripbank softbox
Stripbanks are tall, thin softboxes that work great for everything from portraits (perfect for a hair light) to lighting products, and they’re gaining popularity. I use the 12×36″ Stripbank from Westcott (you can buy adapters to attach most brands of strobes), and I have stripbanks from Elinchrom as well. You’ll love ’em.
Westcott 12×36″: $165.40
Lexar Professional 600x CompactFlash Card
I haven’t met a photographer who wouldn’t love another memory card. If someone on your list loves to shoot sports, then a high-speed card will make his life a lot easier, and this is about as high speed as you get. These cards are super reliable, and are available in three capacities: 8, 16, and 32 GB.
8 GB: $199.99
16 GB: $299.99
32 GB: $499.99
The Camera Lens Mug
These are just so clever—they’re lens mugs that are pretty much exact replicas of a real 24–105mm zoom lens. They’re pretty inexpensive, and they’ll definitely put a smile on her face (once she gets over her disappointment that you didn’t buy her a real lens. Just kidding—she’ll know it’s not real by the weight before she ever opens it).
If you have an off-camera flash freak on your list, get him a Rogue FlashBender or two. It’s a shapeable light modifier that easily attaches to the flash head to let him control the light as it leaves the flash. Of all the ones I’ve seen out there, I think these are the best designed and easiest to use.
Small Reflector: $34.95
Large Reflector: $39.95
Bounce Card/Flag: $29.95
Three-Piece Kit: $104.85
This may be the cheapest gift in this year’s guide, so maybe consider it a stocking stuffer. If it starts raining during a shoot, the photographer on your list can simply grab one of these small, lightweight covers and protect her gear while letting her keep on shooting. You’ll be a hero. The original version fits a camera, and the flash version accommodates a camera and external flash.
Original Two Pack: $6.95
Flash Two Pack: $8.95
The Nikon D7000 or Canon EOS Rebel T2i
These two are arguably the best values out there for someone wanting to jump from a point-and-shoot to a real DSLR. They both take great photos, have full built-in HD video features, and they have enough bells and whistles to keep the photographer on your wish list happy for quite a while (well, at least until next holiday season).
Canon EOS Rebel T2i (body only): $799.99
Nikon D7000 (body only): $1,199.95
Magnetic Polaroid Frames
This is a cleverly designed set of picture frames that look like old Polaroid images, and they even have the little bend in them that makes them look like they’ve been tacked up to the wall for a while. I have a set of these right outside my office door, and I always get comments on them. Very cute, easy to use, and very affordable.
Six frames: $15
A Nikon or Canon backup battery
This is one of those things photographers hate to buy, but love to have, and if you’re like me, and think sometimes the best gifts are the ones you know you should have, but never buy—then this will definitely make him smile. By the way, if he already has a backup battery, a third never hurts.
Check B&H Photo to find batteries and pricing: Approx. $48–115
Wacom Intuos4 Small for travel
If you really want to get him a tablet, but can’t spring for one of the medium-size Intuos4 tablets (which are amazing), get him the Intuos4 Small. The price is right, and he’ll love the small size—I carry one in my laptop bag everywhere I go, and I totally love it!